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"Man is involved in two freakish accidents that make him look like a murderer. Poverty row masterwork that is the most precise elucidation of the noir theme of explicit fatalism." - noir expert Spencer Selby |
Cast: Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald. |
A B-movie, it was shot in six days. The film, budgeted for $89,000 and ended up costing $117,000 to make.
This movie is part of the collection: Film Noir
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Production Company: PRC Pictures Inc.
Audio/Visual: sound, black & white
Keywords: Crime; Drama; Film-Noir; Mystery; Thriller
Contact Information: www.k-otic.com
Creative Commons license: Public Domain
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IMDB says this movie was actually filmed in 28 days, not 6 - that was apparently based on a remark Edward Ulmer made.
Wing Flanagan -
Subject: Noir Fever Dream
If you tried to create a parody or post-modern art-noir you could not do better than Detour. The Coens tried it with The Man Who Wasn't There - a perfectly good film, and technically superior to this one - but it would lack the twisted soul of this low-rent masterpiece.
It was an accident, no doubt. Edgar Ulmer, God bless him, was not exactly a top-tier artist. But somehow, it all came together, with even the most serious mistakes (no one TRIES to make a crappy movie) contributing to its singular texture as a paranoid fever-dream. Something about Detour gets under the skin. We can laugh at its technical ineptitude, the sometimes bizarre performances, and fairly ridiculous plot contrivances, but lurking beneath them is the implacable logic of a nightmare.
What makes it tick, I think, is the painfully obvious way Tom Neal's narration falls apart under scrutiny - but just the right way. It reminds us of the self-deluded loser who makes himself believe he's a victim, not an agent, of his foul circumstance. Everyone can see through his ridiculous story, but himself. He's like the pathetic whiner on death row, telling us that, sure, the victim died, but there was a good reason for everything; it's not like he just KILLED someone. It was an ACCIDENT! Why won't anyone believe him...?
Have you ever awakened from a bad dream, where you did something terrible and could not escape your guilt, no matter how hard you tried? That's what Detour feels like - only without the waking up part.
Subject: You have got to be kidding!
THIS is one of the WORST movies I have EVER seen!!! It makes "Plan Nine From Outer Space" look like "Spartacus"!!! Rediculous story, horrible acting, awful dialogue, senseless plot, aaaagggggghhhhhh!!!
Subject: Ummmm....a bit boring really
Definitely not 5 stars, definitely not very much really happens and definitely not one of the best films on the internet archive.
Subject: "Detour" Is A Very Powerful Film
I concur that this is one of the best films on the Internet Archive. The acting is good, the plot holds up throughout the film, and the theme of fatalism is paramount. Tom Neal and Ann Savage (the latter not appearing until the middle of the film)play well against each other. This film is well worth watching. I would suggest that the overall theme of fatalism should be kept in mind by the viewers rather than the flaws mentioned in other reviews below. This would be worth viewing in sociology and psychology classes.
Subject: Tom Neal and Ann Savage
This film is great and the reviewer observing that fate is the theme is correct. You feel pulled into the fatalism as the story progresses, but at sometime you feel he may escape the nightmare, but thats what the movie is about, he won't .. Tom Neal,star of film,in real life spent years in prison for shooting his wife in the back of the head, not robbery and in contrast Ann Savage, widowed never married again and became known for this role, playing a similar role later on in her life. Excellent film I'll be watching again I'm sure.
This is another of the class of movies that do not get produced any more. Which is a shame, because the story is most compelling and thought provoking. The narrator has a meloncolic haunted tone quiet fitting for the story and the two main characters are very well played. Whether he did it or not he certainty paid a high price meeting that horrible woman. Urggh!
Subject: Al Roberts is Not a Killer
Some reviewers here have wrongly speculated here that Al Roberts is really a killer and that he's just kind of telling us the same story he would tell the police.
That way off base and completely undercuts the major theme of this movie which is fatalism (a key element of film noir). Note that the song that plagues Roberts has a lady singing about the "role of fate" and that he himself talks about fate at the key moment when he opens the door to the dead man who gave him a lift. No, he's just an innocent guy swept up by a force he has no control over (again, a key idea of film noir).
Nor is the fact that he's a gifted pianist working in a club in NYC unusual. First of all, it's not a dive, as noted by the customers there. Secondly, musicians of all stripes have gone through that phase.
His innocence is in marked contrast to the lady who uses him who he gives a ride to. Note that that too is not so unusual because in a sense she picks him up at the gas station while he's getting water for his car. Again fate. Fate that she knew the real owner of the car and in fact had a run in with him.
Fate plays its death card for her too when she playfully winds the telephone cord around he neck (so as to carry it) so that too is not terribly unusual.
No, this is a masterpiece of film noir where fate traps or directs an innocent man, Roberts, along a road (note the metaphor) of death and destruction that he is only witness to.
Subject: Little known fact
Tom Neal,star of film,in real life spent years in prison for robbery,died after his release.
Subject: East Is East and West Is Not Its Mirror Image (Contains Spoiler!)
I too noticed the wrong side of the vehicle problem during Al Roberts's crosscountry trip. Since the map assures us that he started his trip
from New York and not London, there must be some other reason we are led to believe we have jumped to a British flick.
On intense review of the hitchhiking section of the film, I can imagine only one possible reason this error occured - the shoot was shot with the vehicles traveling west to east. Ulmer later, during editing, realized the need for Roberts to be hiking east to west/right to left in order to correspond with the presented map. The only real fix would be a difficult and expensive re-shoot no one involved with the film wanted or was willing to make. Ulmer's fix of simply obversing the film from the shoot during editing was cheap and not satisfactory by today's standards and resulted in the mirror imaging of the vehicles and traffic. Wrong throughout, the ultimate failure of this quick and dirty solution occurs at 15:40 after Haskell picks up Roberts and begins to drive off - the vehicle is correctly on the right side of the road as is passenger Roberts correctly on the right side of the vehicle, but unless the sun has strangely moved to the northern sky, Haskell's car appears to be headed east!
I'm sure the entire crew learned a valuable lesson, and it appears to me the end result might have been the discovery of a new technique:
Extraordinarily disorienting to creatures whose instinctual first science was astronomy, emulsion side-out and emulsion side-in cuts were spliced together during editing; about 4 side swaps in a bit over a minute between about 14:00 and 15:10, driving bewildering confusion into the minds of viewers; like the rude glass meeting porcelain scene at about the same stage of story development in Boorman's "Point Blank", we are being told to stop paying attention to our popcorn and watch the show. I'm not excusing him - Ulmer did not (as Boorman DID) do this for
intentional emotional impact on the viewer - it was a matter of necessity from which, pleasantly, inadvertent invention arose.
In keeping with the spirit of the comments started by Freddie Jaye, we should realize "Detour" could very soon be re-made as "Joran Van der Sloot Swears" with only a few minor plot and location changes.
This dark yarn is well spun. 9/10
Bizr Pix -
Subject: Emily Post's book on hitchhiking
I have seen this film probably 100 times, and it gets better with each viewing. Because it's weird. And hilarious.
There are little idiosyncrasies in the film that most people probably don't notice. I won't point them all out, but at one stage in Al's journey, he's hitchhiking on the wrong side of the road - just about the time his narration suggests that Emily Post should write a book of rules for guys thumbing rides.
What about all the rides he gets from people? What side is he sitting on?
Did they have different rules for driving on the opposite side of the road somewhere between NY and AZ (before he meets Haskell)?
What the hell was Al doing in Oklahoma? Was Route 66 the only way to get to California back then?
Maybe Al should have ridden the pogo stick to Hollywood (a transportation option he mentioned to Sue over the phone before leaving). It would have been a better idea, in retrospect, as he wouldn't be able to offer Vera a lift, or be as likely to meet up with Mr. Haskell.
3 stars for Ann Savage (Vera), 2 more stars for Tom Neal (Al) and his narrative
Dr. Greybeard -
Subject: One Trick Pony
DETOUR is a fine, fun little poverty row film, one of the better efforts of PRC pictures and easily the best work of Edgar G. Ulmer, but make no mistake; Edgar G. Ulmer was not a genius.
Most of Ulmer's films are deadly dull, heavy-handed, ponderously dreadful affairs. Those are the hallmarks of 99% of Ulmer's output, as the director took himself far too seriously. DETOUR was the exception rather than the rule for Ulmer. Everything else he tried failed to one degree or another. Watch this film and you're likely to enjoy it, but avoid the rest of his sad and somber output like the plague.
Edgar G. Ulmer was a one trick pony, and DETOUR was his one trick.
Subject: Good Flick (note: spoiler alert)
My vote is with Freddie Jaye as well. It answers all the many otherwise open questions. Among those not yet mentioned: the Rosemary Woods routine Vera uses to get the chord slipped round her neck; the direction of Roberts pull when trying to disconnect the line (a period tough-guy or anti-hero would typically pull the line free from the wall); and the failure of the used car man to alert the police.
More to the point, though, the setup is a narrator speaking in the second person and asking us to believe his yarn. We transcend the members of the jury to whom he likens us by an assumption of narrative films: we 'witness' the events. Flattering the intelligence and insight of his listeners is con man genetics. In this case, however, the seduction is intrinsically filmic; the con man relies on our suspension of disbelief *within* suspension of disbelief as we 'witness' the events of his narrative unfold.
More accurately, the seduction is a device of the writer who makes good use of a cinematic cliche - by which I mean not the lyric voice, per se, but conditioned response of the audience on exposure to it.
There is some exquisite camera work. Most notable is the long dolly shot at the gas station when Vera approaches the car for the first time, and the sequence of shots of leading to her turning toward Roberts for the first time.
Take it as given that the story is a bill of goods and Vera is perfect, not over the top. Her name, incidentally, means 'truth', Anna's, 'faith' or 'grace'.
The score is Chopin, Schubert ... and a composer I couldn't identify.
The only real problem with this film is that it doesn't quite pull off its elegant and subtle project. I give it five stars instead of four to give its ratings a bump.
slugs and urchins -
Subject: ambiguous on purpose
There are some clues as to the cause of the "possible" natural death of the guy who picks up the hiker; he's taking pep-pills to stay awake while driving across country and has a heart-attack or a brain aneurism before hitting his head on the pavement when the door opens. Certainly the fall didn't kill him. He was dead before he hit the ground.
Vera doesn't just act evil in the film she's the opposite to the grifter and she takes her pound of flesh from him as well. She's evil alright. So was the driver.
The police would certainly not believe his story but they're paid not to so it's no wonder that we still have so many innocent and poor wrongly convicted in this country. I'm sure it was worse in the '30s & '40s.
Instead of looking up his girl he goes on the run which is something a real crook would not do. he would look to establish and alibi through a known party. Unless he's killed her as well...
But the ending is ambiguous on purpose so either explanation is equally plausible. Neal is going to be fried in any case. I just wish he would wipe that "pity-poor-me" look off his face since it makes you want to pull the lever yourself!
Subject: View it with a Jaundiced Eye
I think the only way one can watch this movie is with the mindset suggested below by Freddie Jaye: view the movie as the story Al Roberts tells the police to cover up his crimes. It's the only way to account for what is otherwise the film's biggest flaw (the "explicit fatalism" Selby refers to) -- the preposterous premise that our anti-hero, on the run from the law, under an assumed identity and desperate to get to LA as soon as possible, would stop to pick up a hitchhiker. It also explains evil, evil, evil Vera - we're not seeing a real character, but rather Roberts' self-serving portrayal of her. Various other things to nit-pick: Somehow I suspect the lead role was written with John Garfield in mind. Or maybe it's just Tom Neal doing his best Garfield imitation. Certainly, the ending harkens back to "Postman Always Rings Twice." Ann Savage overacts "Vera" outrageously, as if she were doing grand guignol instead of film noir. But, when viewed with the requisite jaundiced eye, the film is reasonably entertaining.
Freddie Jaye -
Subject: Truth or fiction?
A tight little flick, filed with many unlikely coincidences.
I plucked this idea from an IMDB message board: is "Al Roberts" truly innocent, and the victim of a run of incredibly bad luck?
Or is he truly a cold-blooded killer, with the story we see being nothing more than his mental rehearsal of an (implausible) explanation for two murders?
Watch for little clues -- a pianist of his incredible skill playing in a dive; the one-sided phone conversation; the driver who dies in the car AND clonks his head on a rock shortly thereafter, etc. -- and the second possibility becomes quite believable. Especially so given the ending.
I don't expect much subtlety from cheap little B-movies (although I love them madly), but this one certainly has it...if you look at it the right way.
Subject: Good flick
Pretty entertaining after you get by the first 15 minutes of back story.
Subject: not a B, a B+
Of all the opportune coincidences in this movie, the saxophone player in the next room is the best.
A first class B movie, and really, a $100,000 budget was pretty solid back then.
Subject: Don't waste your time and ours if you're going to encode at 640x480
The MPEG2 file is encoded at 640x480, in other words whoever encoded it is defeating the purpose of even encoding it at MPEG2 and it has to be re-encoded to be DVD-compliant. Really a waste of time to even encode at MPEG2 if you're not going to use a standard resolution, and a waste of time for the downloaders as well. Picture looks decent otherwise. Sorry to be so harsh, but some common sense needs to be used if this much effort is going to be put into encoding and uploading these films.
Subject: Stark and scary
This noir is more frightening than gritty in its domino-like series of events. The protagonist Al, played by Tom Neal, starts out as kind of a hard-bitten wannabe - he'd like to think he's tough and callous, but he still has a soft spot for his singer/lover Sue (Claudia Drake). When a grifter who picked him up hitchhiking dies unexpectedly, Al's only-partly-affected cynicism convinces him that he would be presumed guilty of the man's murder. From there, it's a slow descent into fear, blackmail and coercion, prodded along by Ann Savage's slightly over-hardened femme fatale. By the time the end arrives, it's hard to see how things could have unfolded any differently.
This is the sort of movie best watched alone, at three in the morning, with a dark house and a full bottle of vodka. And all the sharp objects safely locked away.